Forty-nine FCS teams received votes in the pre-season coaches’ poll.
Liberty University wasn’t one of them.
That didn’t much matter Saturday when the Flames became the latest FCS underdog with a September surprise of an FBS big name, bringing down Baylor 48-45. So do we call this an upset?
“Well, I would say so,” coach Turner Gill answered afterward in Waco. “That is why you play the game. If you don’t play the game, you have no chance.”
Yeah, lottery ticket buyers say that a lot, too. But in this case, Liberty had the winning numbers, which may have shocked the Big 12 Bears, but not the players who did it.
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Certainly not the quarterback who passed 60 times for 447 yards and three touchdowns. “We love football, just like they love football,” Stephen Calvert said.
And not the receiver, who shredded the Baylor secondary for 13 catches, 192 yards and two touchdowns. “Just because you don’t go to a bigger school, that doesn’t mean you can’t play,” Antonio Gandy-Golden said.
Here was another testament to how scholarship limitations at FBS powerhouses deepen the talent pool for the little guys. “(They) can’t get all the good players,” Gill said.
To the victor like this goes the headlines, which is always a welcome bonus perk for an FCS school after one of these ground-rattlers.
“I think Liberty’s brand name just went out pretty strong across the country,” Gill said. “Not just for football, but really for the whole school, and that’s kind of what sports is all about. Now people are going to know about Liberty University. They’re going to watch us a little bit more, they’re going to push that button a little bit more on the Internet and research us a little bit more about who are.”
OK, so who are they? Here are 11 things to know about Team That Could at Baylor.
No. 1. Saturday was the biggest athletic moment in history for the former Lynchburg Baptist College, founded by Jerry Falwell in Virginia in 1971. The football program has come a long way since its first game in 1973 — a 42-32 loss to Massanutten Military Academy — but’s had some tough moments.
Lee “Rock” Royer, the coach who went 3-3 that first season, was killed soon after the final game in a plane crash during a storm. The last two games of the 1985 season had to be scrubbed when the Flames’ practice facility was washed away by a flood.
No. 2. Falwell, a controversial figure with some of his religious stances, died in 2007, a proponent to the last of his school making its name in sports. Ten student-athletes served as honorary pallbearers in his funeral.
No. 3. The offense that rolled up 585 yards and 48 points Saturday averaged only 27.5 points a game last year, and was fifth in the Big South in total yardage. Liberty went 6-5.
No. 4. Maybe the Flames are strangers to big stage moments such as Saturday, 1200 miles from campus, but they know about winning. The program has eight Big South titles in the past 10 years, and 11 consecutive winning seasons.
LIBERTY WINS!!!!!— Liberty Flames (@libertyflames) September 3, 2017
FLAMES NATION THIS IS FOR YOU! pic.twitter.com/UfWD2gmj7E
No. 5. Gill’s name should ring a bell for several reasons. This is his sixth season at Liberty, but before that he did FBS head coaching time at Kansas and Buffalo. And wayyyy before that, he was one of Tom Osborne’s biggest stars as Nebraska quarterback, finishing fourth in the 1983 Heisman voting.
Gill’s last college game as a player was one of the most memorable in the sport’s history, a 31-30 loss to Miami in the 1984 Orange Bowl that cost the Cornhuskers the national championship. His last pass was knocked away for an incompletion on a two-point conversion attempt, when Osborne decided to go for the win and not a tie.
There was more than football to Gill. He was an all-Big Eight shortstop and was drafted by both the Yankees and White Sox, before eventually playing in the Indians’ organization.
He struggled as a coach at Kansas – who hasn’t? – but had some good moments in Buffalo. Saturday might be his biggest victory so far, and should do wonders for his coaching renown.
“Don’t care,” he said to that thought. “Doesn’t matter.”
No. 6. The main troublemakers in Waco, Calvert and Gandy-Golden, are both sophomores and roomed together when they first went to Liberty. Back then, they would go out late at night to a darkened football stadium, lit only by the Jumbotron scoreboard, and work together on their future passing game.
“We would run every route four times on each side to get our chemistry down, because we knew one day we would both be playing together,” Gandy-Golden said.
Calvert on his favorite target Saturday: “He’s a monster. He can make every play.”
No. 7. Liberty’s first win against an FBS opponent was 25-24 over Eastern Michigan in 1989. The next one would not come for 21 years, 27-23 over Ball State in 2010. Appalachian State and Georgia State were added to the victims’ list in 2014 and ’15. Baylor was the fifth name, and shiniest.
Any given Saturday.— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 3, 2017
That's Liberty's first ever win against a Power 5 team. pic.twitter.com/osVgqaZyhJ
Until Saturday, Liberty was 0-5 against power-5 conference teams, and had not won a season opener on the road since 1988
No. 8. The winningest coach in school history is Sam Rutigliano, who took over in 1988, eight years after he was NFL coach of the year with the Cleveland Browns. Rutigliano went 67-53 in 11 seasons.
No. 9. This will be the last time Liberty ever beats an FBS team as an FCS opponent. The school is moving up to FBS classification next season. To make the jump, the Flames will be playing at Army, Auburn, Virginia, New Mexico and New Mexico State in 2018. To fill the slate, they’re meeting New Mexico State twice, home and away.
No. 10. Receiver/special teamer Dwayne Carswell of the Denver Broncos became the first Liberty alum to play in a Super Bowl in 1998. Seven years later, his season was finished in October when he was badly injured in a five-car crash outside of Denver.
No. 11. Even though there is not another FBS opponent on the Liberty schedule, the Flames vow to try to keep whatever magic they had on Saturday,
So says quarterback Calvert: “We’ve got to stay focused, can’t let it get into our heads.”
And Gill: “We’re going to turn the page here and get ready for Morehead State and that’s how you’ve got to go about life. You don’t get too high, you don’t get too low, because sooner or later you’re going to get that big dip and you don’t want that in life.”
But Saturday was a pretty good high for Jerry Falwell’s old school.